Three candidates, and I wonder which one you think will win:
Who will win? Who should win?
1. QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, Fr.
Season (12 games): 273-of-400 passing for 3,419 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions; 184 rushes for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Watchman’s take: Detractors will look at Manziel’s 1-2 record in the Aggies’ three biggest games of the year, against Florida, LSU and Alabama. But take a closer look at the numbers: Manziel averaged 293.7 yards of total offense against those three teams, who all finished the season in the top 10 in total defense. His upset of the top-ranked Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa will be remembered as the defining moment of his Heisman campaign, and it was also the moment when SEC fans began taking A&M seriously. Adrian Peterson’s 2004 Heisman finalist run was the most successful by a freshman to date, as the Oklahoma running back garnered 997 votes to finish second behind USC’s Matt Leinart. Manziel should have little trouble breaking that barrier.
Heisman moment of the year: Manziel’s first-quarter touchdown versus Alabama gave the Aggies a 14-0 lead and displayed the freshman’s improvisational skills.
2. LB Manti Te’o, Notre Dame, Sr.
Season (12 games): 103 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, seven interceptions, four pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.
Watchman’s take: For any player, picking off seven passes in a season is a noteworthy accomplishment. And among Te’o supporters, a favorite argument is that the senior has great leadership qualities both on and off the field. Te’o famously learned the name of every walk-on on the Irish roster in order to cultivate an atmosphere of unity, and his ability to play through adversity cemented him as a fan favorite. Ultimately, though, Te’o’s status as a defensive player was the biggest anchor to his candidacy, as the Heisman race has never produced a winner who played exclusively on defense. Manziel will have an easier time beating the freshman barrier than Te’o will overcoming the defense-only barrier.
Heisman moment of the year: Te’o’s late interception of Oklahoma’s Landry Jones cemented Notre Dame’s win over the Sooners and helped the Irish remain unbeaten.
3. QB Collin Klein, Kansas State, Sr.
Last week: 8-of-14 for 184 yards, one touchdown and one interception; 23 rushes for 103 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-24 win over Texas.
Season (12 games): 180-of-272 passing for 2,490 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions; 194 rushes for 890 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Watchman’s take: The Heisman was Klein’s to lose before the walls came crumbling down with No.1 Kansas State’s crushing loss to Baylor on Nov. 11. Klein was the only one of the Watchman’s top three candidates to play on Championship Weekend, but his three-touchdown outing against Texas didn’t inject enough life into his deflated candidacy. Overall, Manziel had better late-season luck but also bested Klein on the stat sheet: The freshman scored six more total touchdowns and recorded just more than 1,200 more yards of total offense on the season.
Heisman moment of the year: One week before losing to Baylor, Klein’s 34-yard touchdown run against TCU helped Kansas State stay unbeaten at 10-0. It also got Gus Johnson’s attention.